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15-percent irrigation cutback sought

Water flows Thursday through the Klamath Reclamation Project's A Canal in Klamath Falls.

Irrigators throughout the Klamath Reclamation Project are being asked to cut water use by 15 percent this year due to low expectations for water supplies.

The cutbacks will be even worse on the east side of the Project, where farmers in the Bonanza area will receive only a fraction of their normal water supply, if anything at all.

And flows in the Klamath River below Keno will be about half of what they would be in an average water year.

The water allocations were set forth Thursday in the 2005 operations plan issued by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which categorized the upcoming irrigation season as a "dry" year.

"It's going to be tight. Everyone is going to have to work together this year," said Dave Sabo, Project manager.


If irrigators can voluntarily reduce their demand for water, mandatory reductions can be avoided, Reclamation officials said.

Reclamation officials planned to meet today with irrigation district managers to discuss the operations plan.

This winter left little snowpack in the mountains, which translated into slim predictions for inflow into Upper Klamath Lake by federal forecasters. The latest forecast, released earlier this week, called for 42 percent of average inflow for the lake from April to September. The irrigation season for the 240,000-acre Project typically runs from April to mid-October.

"This is the third-driest year on record, if the forecasts come through," said Cecil Lesley, Project water and land chief. The record spans from 1961 to 2004, with the driest year recorded in 1992.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has classified the water year type as "dry" for both Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River. The classification is the second-lowest of four labels for the lake and the lowest designation for the river.

Reclamation expects Upper Klamath Lake to yield a water supply of 299,000 acre-feet, compared to about 360,000 acre-feet in an average year.

Because of the shortage, Bureau officials are asking Klamath Basin irrigators - including those on streams above Upper Klamath Lake - to voluntarily scale back their use by 15 percent.

"This is a very dry year and this is what we are going to have to deal with," Lesley said.

Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, said Thursday he had not reviewed the Bureau's operations plan.

"We really haven't seen the forecast," Solem said, adding that a 15 percent reduction is "substantial."

District managers will know more after today's meeting.

"If such a reduction in water demand can be undertaken and maintained throughout the season, Reclamation is cautiously optimistic that forced cutbacks can be avoided, " according to a Bureau press release.

The forced cutbacks would be part of a drought plan the Bureau put into effect March 9. Under terms of the plan, water users with the lowest priority claims to water - classified as "C" users - have already been cut off, including city parks.

The remaining water users, including those classified as "A" and "B" users, are being asked to voluntarily reduce demand for water. If the voluntary effort is successful, the Bureau won't have to impose reductions on smaller irrigation districts, such as Enterprise Irrigation District, Malin Irrigation District and Shasta View Improvement District.

"Everyone wants to get a crop. They'll work together," Sabo said. "If it gets tight, I'm going to have to ask the districts to tighten up a lot."

The water supply is already tight on the Project's east side, including the Langell Valley and Horsefly irrigation districts, which are fed by Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir.

In the operations plan, no water is likely to be available from Clear Lake, and 19,000 acre-feet is expected to come from Gerber Reservoir. The average supply of water on the east side is 68,600 acre-feet.

The water level in Clear Lake, even without irrigation deliveries, is expected to drop below the minimum level set for protection of endangered suckers.

Reclamation officials are consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what could be done to protect the fish. In 1992, water was released from one side of the reservoir to entice suckers into the deeper side of the lake. That process could be repeated this year, Lesley said.

"In doing so, there may be a very small quantity of water delivered from Clear Lake," he said.

That water wouldn't come until May.

The Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges are expected to receive 25,000 acre-feet, compared to an average of 41,900 acre-feet.

On the Net: http://www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao

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